The Purity Of Enjoying Art Detached From The Artist

When my main medium for listening to music was CDs, I enjoyed reading through the inlay booklet, plus other articles about the artist.

It added some backstory to the music, gave it some context.

The downside of this approach I think is that we soon form expectations.

After finding an artist we like, then instead of welcoming new music from them with an open mind and no preconceptions, we’ve already made decisions about what we want, compared with what we’ve been given in the past.

And expectations are almost always followed by disappointment.

How many artists have released a commercially successful album then felt pressured to release the same sounding record time and time again to give their fans more of what they bought the first time?

So one of the biggest shifts I’ve noticed since switching to Spotify for virtually all of my music listening, is how this expectation has changed, and greatly lessened.

Partly you could argue it’s because I’m not becoming so attached to the artists, because whilst I might have a small digital image of the album cover, I don’t have it in my hands, something I can hold and leaf through, something that impacts my senses of sight and touch and even smell, on top of the sound of the music itself.

This could be seen as a downside, that the music (or perhaps just the artist) is more detached, being kept at arm’s length.

But the benefits I’ve found are that I’m more open minded to embracing new music, without any preconception or expectations.

I’m quite happy to start with a song I already love, and let Spotify “Go to Song Radio” and find other songs that sound kind of similar, but are perhaps new to me.

Which then sends me on new explorations, down different sonic rabbit holes.

When I hear a new song that I really like, I investigate the album it’s from, then other songs and albums from the same artist – especially if they’re brand new to me.

Which finds me new favourites, and deepens my knowledge of artists I already knew.

This year, I’ve discovered artists like 36, Alaskan Tapes, Bersarin Quartett, Rafael Anton Irisarri, Erland Cooper, Alan Silvestri, Goldman, Chihei Hatakeyama and Abul Mogard.

And I’ve deepened my knowledge and appreciation of old favourites such as Hammock, Eluvium, Sigur Ros, Loscil, Robin Guthrie, Bing & Ruth, Windy & Carl, and John Williams, to name a few.

Listening to the music has been purely about listening to the music, a purely sonic experience to immerse myself in.

I’ve not distracted myself by reading the lyrics, looking at the artwork of the album, or exploring the artist’s biography.

It’s been about just enjoying the art, without the artist getting in the way.

I think this also fits beautifully with the way I like to listen to music, most often on my own, through headphones.

It’s a personal, intimate experience.

In my younger days I went to perhaps 20 concerts and gigs over a two or three year period, and did enjoy them, but still then I was happier spending quality one on one time with a record by myself.

I can’t remember the last time I went to a music event, certainly not since I’ve know my wife, which is 13 years. (Aside from a few salsa bands, but with that you go for the dancing more than to see the band of course.)

So how does this translate with photography?

Well, for me, I think I’ve naturally followed a similar approach for years.

My searches in Flickr have often been based around a subject matter or a particular film, camera or lens, or a group based around one of these variables.

Whilst I do follow a handful of other photographers, I’m not really holding my breath for each new photograph they share, however much I’ve enjoyed their previous work.

The groups especially mean the new work I see is often by someone different, and I can scroll through and enjoy the photographs without any preconception or attachment to the photographer’s previous work – because I usually don’t even know who the photographer is until I hover over the image or click through to see it full size.

As with music, I like this pure and simple approach, letting the photographs arrive at my eyeballs without any baggage (except my own!) to cloud or distort or disappoint.

Perhaps in many ways the greatest artists for me are those who are are all but anonymous, and let their work say everything they need to.

Part of me thinks, but hang on, I’m a photographer, and I’d quite like it if someone followed me on whatever platform (you have a grand choice of two – Flickr or WordPress!) because they enjoyed my pictures and look forward to the next ones.

But again I revert to the work itself.

I’d love for someone to really enjoy a photograph of mine, and find that it interested them, moved them, inspired them.

But then I wouldn’t expect them to want to hear my life story, or even care if the name and image I use online are real. (They are.)

How do you feel about your favourite art, whether it be music, photography, or any other medium?

Do you also have a keen interest in who created it, and want to know all about them? Or are you interested purely in the art alone?

As always, please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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11 thoughts on “The Purity Of Enjoying Art Detached From The Artist”

  1. Ahah! I just came here a few days ago while I was looking for how people use the LX3 (I have one since about 10 years, which I rediscover as I reactivate my taste for photography). I first discovered photographs that really speak to me. And then I looked at other posts from you, quite a lot actually, which confirmed that I really love your photographs (type of subjects, that kind of B&W, the close up, the use of blurring, colors when there are, …) but also the way you practice photography (the pleasure of the act itself, the simplicity of the subjects, the interest in gear but not from a purely technical point of view, etc.). So the answer to your question should seem actually obvious: this is not the art alone but also what is around, the intention, the act itself. I wonder if this is not for part because it helps to know oneself better, by recognizing traits that were not apparent because they were not clearly expressed before? It also reminded me that I sometimes appreciated more an exhibition after I was able to get more information, to understand a bit the connection between the individual works, how it has evolves through time.
    Well, in any case I’m very happy of my discovery and will continue to spend time here! (and sorry for my english probably not being perfect!)

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Joël, and your kind comments.

      I wonder if there are almost two levels of artists in my mind. There are definitely people who’s photos I enjoy, who I’ve found online and then spoken to, commented on their blog, their Flickr, and so on. This is similar to what you talk about and what we’re doing now, finding like minded photographers. It is interesting to hear their approach to photography, what equipment they use and so on.

      Then I think I see another category of artist who aren’t reachable, who I’m never going to speak with, and who I’m happy to enjoy purely on the basis of their work alone. This covers musicians far more, and some photographers who work I’ve found in books perhaps more than any current platform online.

      Enjoy that LX3, they’re fantastic cameras!

      1. I agree with your two levels of artist. But for myself, a better knowledge of the artist, of his approach just adds something to what I had just looking at the work itself. Some people however are not interested in any way in the approach, as if it did not improve their experience.
        It makes me think at how I can have emotion when looking at some photographs, which is seldom the case for paintings for exemple. I think this is somewhat related to the fact I know a bit more what is behind a photograph, what it involves to get that image. That just don’t work with painting as I have no knowledge about it. So with photographs, there are at least two layers: the image itself (that I can enjoy), then because this is photography, additionnal things about the process that I guess (perhaps mistakenly) and which adds to the pleisure. And if I know the artist, or the remaining of his work, there is a third layer. I think I can say that each time I have a bit of understanding in addition to only viewing the work, it add something positive to my experience.

      2. Joel, good points. I tend to be more impressed with artwork where I have no idea how the artist made it. Whether that’s painting or photography or music or film or anything else. I guess it’s because then I have a kind of awe on a technical level, plus the impact of the work itself.

        I also think the internet has transformed how we consume art, and how we see, and connect with, artists. 25 years ago it was hard if not impossible to make a direct contact with any artist, unless we joined local clubs etc. Plus the internet has made the range of artwork at our fingertips incredibly vast. Of course seeing a painting or sculpture on a screen, or hearing streamed music compared with being in a live concert are very different, but just the access the internet gives us to make these initial discoveries of new artists, which we can then take into different dimensions if we want to.

  2. Random thoughts about this post…
    …having a post every 3 days, I think, is changing your blog for the better – you seem to have more time to think about a subject and you seem to be able to go into deeper thoughts about it… I like that.
    …I guess you didn’t live through the LP era – and last year was the first one where LPs outsold CDs for the first time since the 80s. Holding an LP cover in your hands is quite an experience and I feel it added so much to the mood of the music that you were about to listen…
    …lately I have been focusing a bit on finding “photography that makes me feel something”. I am finding more and more that it’s much easier to accomplish with film, but I continue to pursue it digitally. Having color shifts is a “cheap way” to emulate the film feel but it doesn’t quite get there. It seems to be a combination of slight color shifts, and an elusive balance of contrast and color (or mid-tones in the case of B&W photography). And then there’s composition… I feel like I’m working too hard on something that for some people just comes naturally. Which is also, my history of approaching music – so it’s very timely that you have again connected the two forms of art.
    …lovely texture on that leaf 🙂

    1. Chris, thanks as always for your input. As I wrote about a while back, I reached a phase where I was blogging hand to mouth almost, often writing a post the day/night before to be published the next day and maintain the 48 hour posting schedule. Now I’ve re-instated more regular writing sessions, and eased the publishing to once every three days instead, I’ve certainly had more breathing space, and I’m glad to hear that’s reflected in the content too. I’m back to having two or three posts queued up at any one time, which eases pressure on writing new ones so immediately too. I love blogging, but I don’t want it to be another pressure in life, I race around too much as it is with family and work!

      I remember the LP era from my parents, and whilst neither had many records (in fact I think it was only my mum), I do remember the appeal of opening up the LP cover and how large it was. I guess people took it for granted then, it wasn’t until cassettes, and then CDs became more widespread that people started to notice how much smaller the artwork was in comparison.

      Some years back I bought a few Bowie and Kate Bush LPs in an old record store just to frame the covers and have them on my wall. “Heroes”, Lodger and The Sensual World made excellent artwork in chunky black 12x12in frames, especially as they are all predominantly mono.

      I’ve always assumed this is why DVDs had the same size case (only thinner) as VHS before them, instead of the size of a CD case, which was already a well established standard by then. People had got used to a size and format and to make the transition to DVDs from VHS more seamless, the box was the same size to look at from the front, to stack on your shelves, and to display the cover art as large. Still, it’s always seemed a massive waste of plastic to me.

      Years back when I had a major purge of my stuff, I took all of my DVDs out of their boxes and bought some simple transparent sleeves. The physical space required to then store them was a tiny fraction of all those oversized DVD boxes…

      With composition, I don’t know, I just move the camera around until it looks “right” in the screen or VF. I love how you can, say, take a scene of a street with buildings and trees and cables, and by adjusting your position the scene can go from a cluttered mess of overlapping lines and objects, to being something that’s compositionally calm and pleasing.

      It amuses how many people will want to take a good portrait picture, say, of an adult holding a young child, and they’ll have the camera/phone in landscape orientation, so large areas of the composition at each side are wasted and dead space, rather than simply tilt the camera/phone 90 degrees to the natural shape of the object (ie people) you’re capturing, and they fill the frame.

      We took some family photos very recently and one was with two adults sitting, and a child on one of their laps. The best composition was clearly square, just because that was the overall shape of the main subjects collectively. So I took the picture landscape to get the top to bottom composition right, then cropped from the sides to make it square.

      Our family photographer nearly always makes images that are 4×5. It’s frustrating if you want to then get prints from another mainstream source who don’t print at that size, and she of course offers prints and frames in the 4×5 which are lovely quality. But I have to say that it works very well as a portrait aspect ratio, because for one to four or five people, either 4×5 or 5×4 fills the frame very well, whereas with 3×2 (35mm film and many DSLRs) or even 4×3 (most digital compacts) generally leave too much wasted space either at the sides or top and bottom.

  3. It’s like a patterned door of texture behind (the leaf), what a neat frame.

    Your idea of appreciating art “on its own terms” resonates with me. This is a conversation in which we can get really deep into the thorns on so many levels. I su[ppose I’m pretty guilty of finding context irresistible or a nece3ssary part of hazard prevention on the web, whether I’m viewing, listening or reading. I’m always trying to be very conscious of that bias. i like the challenge of parsing it to understand the reasons things illicit a response or instinct in me. There are many different levels of the phenomenon you’re talking about, IMHO. As far as WP, I guess I might have a different level of expectation or desire that I could slowly over time get to know someone and so that interpersonal dynamic/aspect is in there biasing things, though I always try to be really genuine and honest about my appreciation when it comes to giving people feedback.

    That’s different than say, going down the rabbit hole of listening to different artists and albums on Spotify and other music streaming. But even on there I like context. I’m not in the camp of people who think we have too much information and it has ruined everything, I’m pretty much the opposite. I love the democratization of information and how it has the ability to drastically enhance and expand our understanding and enjoyment of music, how it got made and the process behind it. And I like knowing about the artists. Some artists are really crafty and gracious about working this to their favour. Others have legitimately refused to compromise their privacy or personal ethics. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong. This complicated new world is also why I think live music is even more important than it ever was. It just strips everything unimportant out. I’ve always by far preferred the live versions of songs better, my first shows were like a miracle to me, the polish of the studio was stripped away but the imperfections incomprehensibly exalted the sound. when the pandemic is over and things are a lot safer I can’t wait to go to some live shows again es.p to take my oldest

    1. Thanks re the photo Jason!

      I think we always bring some kind of personal bias (or maybe you call it baggage) to anything we experience, art included. I know that with records I’ve known a long time overall, but then not listened to for a few years, when I go back to them they have a slightly different meaning, because of however I have changed in the intervening years.

      Yes, I believe that once we know someone online (at the level that you and I know each other), there is definitely a different approach to new work, and the feedback or response given. I read a post the other day promoting kindness online, and it pointed out that unkindness is so often heightened because it’s easier to do this without conscience if the person we’re talking to is all but anonymous, and it’s in written words rather than in person.

      I’m not sure how I feel about information. “Information overload” is a phrase and concept I relate to, and I think the problem is the quality or (un)necessity of the info. We’re bombarded with so much that is useless, advertising and sales driven nonsense, just trying to impress people into part with their money. Just look at any hair or skin cream tv ad, they’re quite ridiculous, in my opinion.

      I’m all for making useful, informative, educational info available to the masses, and yes this democratisation is fantastic. But again it gets corrupted, twisted, people who don’t have perhaps the nous and cynicism to filter the truth from the fake (news) get taken for a ride, which when applied to increasingly large populations can be very influential and to the detriment of all.

      The more C19 has gone on over here, the more I wonder about how much of what we’re fed in the way of stats from government sources is true and how much is “spun” (either up or down) to give a different impact…

  4. From my dad, I learned the joy of listening to the entire record album. Dad loved his Hi-Fi, sometimes it seemed more than his kids, and preferred listening through speakers. His stereo was a Sunday morning alarm clock for us boys. 😁

    While we enjoyed the music, Dad and I also enjoyed reading the record liner while discussing some of the technical aspects of the performance, the quality of the reproduction via his equipment, etc. but mostly appreciating the music and being in awe at the creativity of the musician. This is active listening.

    I have Apple’s music streaming service and Spotify and tried Tidal, and I think they’re great for background music at a party, etc. But it doesn’t give me the same feeling. It’s not satisfying. These are things I’ve only come to realise recently.

    So I have decent Open Air headphones from Grado which I use for listening to albums on Apple Music. I’m building out a kit. Schitt Audio makes acclaimed headphone amps and DACs which I’m considering purchasing.

    It’s the same for photography. Instagram is a nice distraction when I’m bored. One of my joys is photo walks with fellow photo geeks chatting about the artist, process and the technology. Another is reading blogs like this one where the author puts outs questions that inspire long comment responses. 👏🏾

    If we are having a cosy evening with a small group of close friends or family around a fire, then we bring out the Highland single malt. Hosting a party for work colleagues? Lowlands blend.

    1. Very interesting comparisons.

      Sounds (no pun intended!) like you had a great education in music from your dad. I think if my parents had been more into (or encouraged me to research and explore) music, or photography or a number of other creative pursuits, my teenage years would have taken quite a different path than the computing, maths and science route. I just had so little exposure to anything artistic until I started appreciating music myself around the age of 17 or 18.

      I had some Grado headphones, best sound I’ve ever experienced. I went through all my favourite albums (CDs) with them and discovered so many sounds and layers I’d never heard before. I have some padded noise cancelling headphones that are pretty decent (and very comfortable) but rarely use them. Mostly out and about I use cheap (but actually amongst the best I’ve used) Betron B750s earphones, which for the price (under £10) are astonishingly good. Plus I have my good old Mission speakers and Denon micro that we run the TV through. I sometimes listen to music through those (like now) and appreciate a more room filling sound.

      Glad I provoke some thinking with my questions!

      I don’t drink but I can see what you mean about a kind of every day whisky, then one for special occasions.

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